Marcos will ask China envoy to explain remark on Taiwan OFWs
MANILA, Philippines — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Wednesday he would soon speak with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian as he admitted being surprised by the envoy’s comment that Manila should “unequivocally oppose” Taiwan’s independence instead of “stoking the fire” by giving American troops more access to local military bases through the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) with the United States.
Speaking to reporters in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan, after leading the groundbreaking of a government housing project, the president said Huang’s comments might have been lost in translation.
“I think there must have been an element of lost in translation. English is not his first language, but I’m very interested to know what it is that he meant,” Marcos said. “We were all a little surprised, but I just put it down to the difference in language.”
The president said he believed Huang meant that the Philippines should not “provoke or intensify the tensions” because it would “impact badly on the Filipinos.”
“That’s how I take it,” Marcos said. “But I’ll be talking to the ambassador soon. And I’m sure he’ll be very anxious to give his own interpretation of what he was trying to say.”
In his speech during the 8th Manila Forum of the Association for Philippine-China Understanding last week, the Chinese ambassador said: “The Philippines is advised to unequivocally oppose ‘Taiwan independence’ rather than stoking the fire by offering the US access to the military bases near the Taiwan Strait if you care genuinely about the 150,000 (overseas Filipino workers, or OFWs)” on the island that China claims as its own.
“Obviously, the US intends to take advantage of the new Edca sites to interfere in the situation across the Taiwan Strait to serve its geopolitical goals, and advance its anti-China agenda at the expense of peace and development of the Philippines and the region at large,” Huang also said.
But it was his remarks regarding the welfare of OFWs in Taiwan that prompted a backlash here, particularly among the country’s legislators.
Out of context
However, the Chinese Embassy on Sunday said its ambassador’s remarks advising the Philippines against supporting Taiwan were taken “out of context.”In its statement, the Chinese Embassy noted the “extensive coverage” of Huang’s speech.
“Unfortunately, some misquoted or misinterpreted Ambassador Huang’s remarks or simply took part of the ambassador’s words out of context,” said the embassy, which also referred the media to the original text of the speech, as posted on its website on Sunday afternoon.
On Wednesday, Huang was the speaker during the celebration of International Chinese Language Day at Jose Abad Santos High School in Manila, where he said the Philippines’ “centuries-old friendship with China will continue forever.”
However, the ambassador declined requests of the media for an interview and refused to answer when asked to clarify his statements or expound on how the Chinese Embassy said he was misquoted.
Missing Edca details
In the Senate, meanwhile, Sen. Imee Marcos, chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, lamented that the Philippine government has agreed to add four new sites under Edca even without the issuance of the terms of reference that would cover the activities at the new locations.
“Is it not worrisome that we are adding new sites, and we have started the activities, firing missiles, and whatnot without any document in hand on the terms of the agreement?” she said.
Senator Marcos made the statement in reaction to an admission by the country’s top foreign affairs and defense officials that they have not yet forged with the US government the terms of reference for the four new Edca sites.
Early this month, the Armed Forces of the Philippines announced the addition of new Edca sites in Balabac Island in Palawan, Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Gamu town in Isabela, Cagayan North International Airport in Lal-lo town in Cagayan province, and Camilo Osias Naval Base in Santa Ana town, also in Cagayan.
The four sites are in addition to five that were named earlier: Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu province and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro.
The terms of reference, Marcos said, should guide the two militaries in whether the United States would be allowed to store “military assets” in Edca sites, and if access to these sites would be exclusive only to US troops and off-limits to the AFP.
Marcos said this bolstered her apprehension that the new sites would be used as a staging area for any defensive position against any possible threat to Taiwan supposedly under the guise of “humanitarian assistance and disaster response” for the Philippines.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian echoed Marcos’ bewilderment that out of the four new Edca sites, none were being set up in the Bicol regions, which are often the hardest-hit areas by typhoons.